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Congress Takes Bolder Action

By Peter Slavin

Last December, without fanfare, lawmakers added a provision to the 2012 federal budget mandating a much more ambitious campaign against Agent Orange in Vietnam. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2055), directs the United States to go beyond the cleanup of contaminated former military bases to address the needs of people with disabilities in territory across the country that was sprayed during the war. The problem in these areas is no longer contamination but people who may be suffering from dioxin’s delayed effects.

Research is underway to determine how much each province was sprayed with herbicides between 1961 and 1971. The Dialogue Group plans to recommend that assistance to people with disabilities begin in the provinces that were drenched the most and have the fewest social services.

The legislation also directs that the United States work with Vietnam and by June 22, develop a comprehensive multiyear plan to deal with Agent Orange. Discussions were to be held in May, marking the first time, Bailey says, “the two governments have jointly contributed to an agreement or plan on what to do about Agent Orange.”

Finally, the law urges the Obama administration to include money for this campaign in its budget requests to Congress, which would routinize Agent Orange funding. The president’s 2013 budget includes funds for cleanup work for the first time.

Bailey says the legislation was bipartisan but gives important credit to Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa. Bailey says he has long provided expert opinion on Agent Orange to Senate staff when they ask and won over Harkin when they visited Da Nang together.

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